Are Fire Logs safe to use? This is one of the most frequently-asked questions that we, as chimney sweeps, get asked. There is something to be said for their convenience and it’s not like everybody has enough room to store a cord of wood. We also find that older people like using fire logs because they sometimes find a wood pile too physically demanding. A fire log’s convenience and ease of use is a real advantage but there are a few things you should know in order to reduce the dangers from improperly using this fuel source.
What is a Fire Log?
Prefabricated fire logs are artificial logs made of wax, sawdust and other binding agents. Some of the more common brands are Duraflame, Pine Mountain and Earthlog. These logs are designed to be used in open hearth, brick and mortar masonry systems or prefabricated fireplace systems; however, they cannot be used in freestanding stoves or fireplace inserts. Some basic rules should be followed when using these products.
Rules for Using Fire Logs
Only burn one fire log at a time.
Never place fire logs on top of or below a wood fire. Many people will do this because it makes for an easy way to start a fire. Instead, many manufacturers have a safer alternative called a “fire starter” to easily start the fire. Fire starters are considerably smaller than fire logs and the sole purpose of a fire starter is to start a wood fire.
Never poke the fire log once it has started burning. Breaking open the log prematurely releases all the fuel at once and you may experience a major smoking problem. These logs are designed to release the fuel slowly, in a controlled way.
Prefabricated fire logs must be used on a fire grate with no more than three inches in spacing between the rods of the grate. This will allow enough support to prevent the logs from prematurely breaking open.
The manufacturers of these products state that they are not designed to be used in free-standing stoves or wood stove inserts!
Do not cook food over these fire logs due to the chemicals in the logs. Some manufacturers have designed special “campfire roasting logs” for this use.
Safety Issues with Fire Logs
If the fire gets out of control, use a dry-chemical fire extinguisher or sand. Some of these fire logs are a petroleum-based product. Using water to put out the fire may just “spread the fire” instead of extinguishing the flames.
Always use a fireplace screen in front of the fireplace. Sometimes these fire logs can “spit.”
The damper needs to be in a fully open position while using these fire logs. Even after the fire logs have gone through the time allotted on the package, the damper should still be left open until the next morning to make sure that the ashes are completely extinguished.
If you have glass doors on the front of the fireplace, the glass doors must be in a fully open position. Fire needs oxygen and it pulls the oxygen from the room. Cutting off the oxygen source will create a vacuum inside the firebox and we’ve seen more than a few instances of the glass imploding or exploding. Once the fire is out, close the glass doors before going to bed for safety reasons and to prevent downdrafts in the middle of the night.
And finally, manufacturers of prefabricated fire logs state that these products are clean burning but that doesn’t mean that these logs won’t create creosote buildup in the flue. In fact, in our experience, many times the creosote from fire logs has more of a buildup than with wood. Whether burning fire logs, wood, or other materials, make sure to have your chimney inspected by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep on an annual basis and sweep if needed.
In summary, fire logs are convenient because they’re easy to use and easy to store. Follow the rules above and you’ll enjoy a safe and easy fire.
[Photo credits: Terri Pocock]